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InfoQ Homepage Podcasts Culture & Methods Trends Report 2022 Part 2

Culture & Methods Trends Report 2022 Part 2

This is the second part of the Culture & Methods trend report for 2022 where Shane Hastie spoke to Shaaron Alvares who was not able to join us for the first recording to explore what she has seen over the last year and the trends she sees going forward.

Key Takeaways

  • Success today depends very much on aspects such as empathy, psychological safety, and people centric change management
  • The tools we have for remote collaboration are improving but still have a long way to go
  • Real psychological safety is still lagging in many organisations
  • People managers need to build skills in facilitation and coaching
  • Diversity and inclusion efforts are still going too slowly and are often for marketing/branding purposes rather making than real substantive change


Introductions [00:38]

Hi folks. Followers of this podcast will know that we recently had the 2022 culture and methods trend report episode where we get together as an editorial team. Unfortunately, one of our key editorial team members, Shaaron Alvares, was not able to join us on that episode. So I was fortunate to sit down and chat with Shaaron to hear from her point of view what are the things that she's seeing, looking forward into 2022. Shaaron, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. It's great to see you again.

Shaaron Alvares: Thank you Shane for having me. I'm very excited to be here today.

Shane Hastie: Our readers, our listeners probably have come across your work on InfoQ, but tell us a little bit about your background please.

Shaaron Alvares: I have been in the Agile space for quite a while, actually probably 13, 14 years. I started off in France when I was working in manufacturing. So that's where I learned about Lean Manufacturing, Kaizen and the 5S and that's how I got exposed to Agile. And I moved in Seattle about 12 years ago, and I worked with really large organizations that were obviously a software development organization. We have a lot of headquarters here. So I was exposed to Agile at scale. So I've been working in the Agile space for as long as 14 years. And I started off as a scrum master, and progressively I became an Agile coach, and I helped executives scale Agile across particular teams and groups as well

Shane Hastie: In your work, for InfoQ in particular, what would you say has been your area of focus over the last few years?

Focus on culture [02:18]

Shaaron Alvares: Over the last few years, I was very interested in the culture in organizations. Through my experience I came to understand and I realized that the culture and in particular aspects such as empathy, psychological safety, and people centric change management are really key. And I want to see the bedrock of any successful Agile adoption or transformation. And so for InfoQ it's true that I focused a lot on cultural papers because I find the aspect of team collaboration, the culture are really, really important.

Shane Hastie: If we look back over the last couple of years, we've been through the COVID, we've had that forced remote, and now we are seeing organizations starting to get back to some sort of, I'm not going to say new normal, but different way of working. What are the important trends that you are seeing when you look around?

Recognizing the importance of the well-being of people in remote environments [03:21]

Shaaron Alvares: That's a really, really good question. And it's true that there have been so, so many changes that have impacted organizations, but also teams, and also the way we approach Agile, right? How we prioritize Agile. And so from my experience working with large organization, it felt not that we were pausing on Agile adoption or transformation, but it felt, and it's a really good thing, that leaders were very interested in supporting the teams and the people in what was happening during the pandemic. So there was a little bit of a shift from Agile practices adoption towards the wellbeing of the people in organization. So what that means is, for example, if we want to talk about Agile, we focused a lot on helping our teams collaborate better remotely. So we help them pivot their team working agreements, for example, to make anything remote into their working agreement, how they going to be collaborating, how can they be more effective?

How can they feel still connected to each other's wellbeing, remote, and how can they still be effective in their day to day job? So we focused a lot on that. I've seen a lot of organization and coaches are working on that. Some other aspect I want to mention is some challenges that arise from the situation, the pandemic, is we don't have a lot of great collaboration tools. I think we thought we had good collaboration tools before the pandemic, because probably they were good enough for what we wanted to do. But when we saw that we were forced to be a hundred percent remote and for a really long period of time, I think we came to the realization that the tools that we had are not very effective. We don't have enough tools. The one that we have are not very effective, there's a lot of things that we can't do.

So I think this is still a gap. And even if it became apparent during the pandemic, I feel that there hasn't been enough efforts from a company's agency to develop additional to, there's still a gap after two years and a half, I think it's still a gap. Yeah and some other consideration is about the burnout. So I saw that with the various companies I worked with, I saw that the leaders were very concerned about the teams being burnt out. And there was a focus on looking at different type of report. The visionary on execution and driving execution did very performance, but I saw an emergence of focusing on data that are more around the wellbeing of the developers.

The great resignation turning into the great opportunity for organisations and people [05:54]

For example, are they burnt out, how can we see that? What are the tools, what are the elements that we can use such as the time that they spent on Slack? And also we looked at the time that they have a deep work. So companies encourage software developer to carve out hours for deep work. And so that was great, I think that's a really positive aspect that came out of the pandemic and I hope it's going to stay. And of course there was the great resignation. So that's turning out that it was a great resignation. We saw it like that, but I'm glad to see that now it's turning into a great opportunity for a lot of organizations.

Shane Hastie: So let's delve into some of that wellness stuff. Surely organizations should have been thinking about wellness and employee experience and all of that forever, but have they?

Wellness days and other elements to support wellbeing [06:46]

Shaaron Alvares: Yeah, it is. I agree. It is sad and unfortunate that an event such as a pandemic contributed to that pivot. And I hope it is going to last, I know that some organizations are actually asking their employees to come back to work because we are coming to the end tail of the pandemic, and some organizations are actually seeing the benefits, the employees' morale, wellbeing. And so they are actually considering accommodating the employees based on their choice. So having a hybrid model. And so I sure hope there's a lot of other practices that were put in place. Speaking for the company I'm working with right now, Salesforce, we have what we call a wellness day. So once a month on a Friday, it's generally the first or second Friday of the month, we are off actually. The company is off and employees can take a wellness day and all leaders actually announce that we are going to keep that wellness day. So that's really great to see the care, the attention that they put into their well-being of their employees. And I sure hope that's going to last.

Shane Hastie: One of the things that we've certainly seen is this hybrid situation. How do we prevent hybrid from being the worst of both worlds?

To make hybrid work, really talk to your people and listen to what they need [08:03]

Shaaron Alvares: I think it's really important to survey, to engage the employees, to understand what they need, and to understand what makes them successful in this hybrid world, right? So looking at what we are doing, that's working really well remotely, and what we've done in the past that's works really well when we are onsite. And I think combining the best of both world is really going to be critical. But that requires to talk to our employees, to do service, to talk about them, not just with service, but to build that trust and psychological safety, and allow them to actually share their feedback during team meetings. What matters to them? What's important for them? What's a priority? How can we ensure that they have the right environment and the tools that they need to be effective? So it's not just the comfort for some of us, not just the comfort of working from home or the desire to be in an office.

It's also giving everybody the right tools to be effective. There's a saying in Agile, I remember when we were all onsite or a few would be remote, we always prefer to do meetings online when some of us would be remote. The reason for that is because when you have some people in the room and some remote at home, the focus is generally on the people in the room, right? So it creates a little bit of a gap between the people in the room and the disengagement and the people on the call don't participate at as much.

And one way to fix that is to have everybody, even if we are in the room, we prefer to have everybody on their laptop actually, and that works much better. So I think we are going to have to find solutions that's going to be working for everybody. Focus in the room onsite and people who actually wants to stay home. So I don't think that we have all of the answers actually right now, there's a lot of people looking at and experimenting. So I talked about psychological safety. And so I think continuously experimenting, which we've done when we went from onsite to remote, right? A lot of organizations started experimenting with the tools that we had so that continuous feedback experimentation and talking about those things meant to be really important.

Shane Hastie: Psychological safety, you've mentioned this a couple of times, and we know now that it's really, really important and it always has been, I think, but how do we make this real? What do our organizations, what do our leaders need to do to stop it being just lip service, but to really getting to the depth of it?

Real psychological safety is still lagging [10:43]

Shaaron Alvares: I think we still very much lagging in this area. We talked about it, there's been a lot of research and studies, but there's still a lot of work to do. So what do we need to do for it to see? I think the first thing is a little bit like when we start an Agile transition or adoption, we absolutely, absolutely need executives. We absolutely need our leaders to first understand what that is. And also experiment with the psychological safety practices. We want them to go through that process so that they can understand the importance of it, and they can recognize the importance of psychological safety.

And once we see that, once we are able to do that, I think it's easier to roll out practices, exercise, workshops, and awareness across an organization. I had that conversation actually recently with some friends who worked at a Nationwide, the Building Society. And we talked about the work that we do. So they mentioned that they have an initiative where they work with executives on psychological safety. And I think this is foundational if we want to promote that within the people managers and also the teams. And what we can do, there's a lot of exercise actually and practices, and some research studies as well.  As long as it's not prioritized, as long as we don't understand exactly the importance of it, it's not going to stick and it's not going to be well.

Shane Hastie: Something we saw in the trends report last year that we think is carrying forward this year was the shift in management training to bring in some of the facilitation and coaching skills. How do you see that happening?

Leadership training in collaboration, facilitation and coaching skills [12:24]

Shaaron Alvares: I think it's an amazing idea actually. That's something I always promoted in the way I work. I always try to encourage people managers to become coaches. And I think the more we can equip people managers with coaching skills and facilitation skills, the more we'll support the organization and we'll have better teams, right? Because we need them to have those qualities and it's not easy because they are still people managers. So they still have the responsibilities around delivery and performance. And so having also a coaching hat, being able to move between being a people manager and a coach is not always easy actually. But I think it's wonderful. I think in fact all people managers should go through a coaching, a training, even Agile coaching training.

Shane Hastie: Switching topics. How do we get teams to be more effective, particularly in this remote and hybrid environment?

Making time for deep work [13:23]

Shaaron Alvares: We touch on few things I think that can help more effective, it's not just delivering and working around the clock, right? So more effective, it's being able to have time for deep work. So making sure that they have regular check-ins. Even if we are remote, it's still very important to have really good standard practices, for example. And there are tools for organization, use Slack. So they are stand-up and Agile ceremony tools now built into Slack. So I think it's very important that they have that daily check-in. It's important that we make sure that they have time for what we call maker time or deep work every day ideally. It's really important for the people manager to check in with their teams, but also to check in with their team members during one-on-ones.

Something that I have seen is the people manager one on one has shifted as well, had to pivot to be more focused on the wellbeing of the employees, not just the execution, the performance, and the delivery, and the results actually, but also making sure that, hey we care for you. We want to know how you doing. And so this is really important as well for the team's effectiveness and the tools. I think that the several studies are really interesting that have shown that the key predictor of developer velocity is actually their best in class tools. And so having really great tool for developers to be able to deliver their work and work without interruption or impediment, dependencies and so on. So that's a really important aspect. And I think it stayed at the top of the priorities of a lot of the software product organization. It's harder to do because it's an investment. But I think ensuring that we focus on the wellbeing as well as providing them with tools that are really important for their experience. Developer experience is also important.

Shane Hastie: Well let's tackle one of the biggest challenges that I think we still see in information technology in general, and this is diversity and inclusion. We might be doing better, we think we are doing better, what's really happening?

Slow progress around diversity and inclusion [15:34]

Shaaron Alvares: So that's a topic that has always been really important for me. And I've been researching it and even talking about it at different conferences in the last few years. And I don't think that we made amazing progress actually in the last few years, it seems that we still learning about what it is and what we need to do. I think there's definitely a desire to change, to do better, but I honestly feel that the progress has seem too slow. And just like Agile it feels that there's a little bit of lipstick, DNI, marketing, in a setting that it's still not where we want to be. So still a lot of work to do in this area.

Shane Hastie: And what is that work? What do organizations have to do to really make this real?

Shaaron Alvares: I think we have to do it for real. We still not clear sometimes if we do it for marketing, for post, or because we have to do it. And because every company does it and I think we are not doing it because we truly believe that it's important it should be done. And so until executives are truly investing in inclusion, belonging, and equity and are also addressing the gaps. So it comes down to addressing the gaps and also setting targets and goals for improving on inclusion, belonging, and equity. I don't think we're going to make a lot of progress. So it means really tackling it, making the priority, putting it on our OKR and incentives roadmap, and go for the view. It means assessing the gaps. It means communicating on a regular basis with the employees. It means also doing a lot of awareness and trainings around microaggressions, which we don't see much of in organizations. Also it ties back into psychological safety as well, this encouraging people to talk about it and making sure that there are appropriate channels to talk about it.

Shane Hastie: What's your hope for the future? We're sitting at the beginning of 2022, what's coming? What should we be aspiring to in this coming year?

Hopes for the future [17:49]

Shaaron Alvares: My greatest hope and if I had a magic wand, I would want organization to do better on the wellbeing and just not the wellbeing, but actually the developer experience and tuning has to do with wellbeing. It's I would want to focus on that, help developers and teams be in a place where they can actually dedicate a good amount of time to their aft, doing what they do best. Which means removing blockers, making sure that they have the tools, the environment that they need to develop awesome projects, supporting their autonomy and making them better. And that's almost, I like to say my life purpose, I want nothing more than enabling teams, giving them what they need to be successful. And I really hope that organizations are going to invest a lot more in that, the health of the teams.

Shane Hastie: Shaaron, wonderful opportunity for us to catch up. It's been far, far too long. If the listeners want to continue the conversation, where do they find you?

Shaaron Alvares: I would love to stay in touch and I would love to connect with anybody who is interested in those conversations. So you can find me on LinkedIn and you can also find me on Twitter under Shaaron2010. I think that's the year I set up my Twitter account. You know why?

Shane Hastie: Sharon, thank you so much.

Shaaron Alvares: Thank you very much, Shane.


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